Arjen Anthony Lucassen. If you are into progressive rock and haven’t heard of him you are either not trying very hard or lying. Lucassen has taken it upon himself to revive the art of the rock opera, although perhaps metal opera is closer to the truth. Over the course of Ayreon‘s musical history virtually everyone who’s anyone in prog rock has appeared on a series of almost hysterically pompous albums – sample album title “Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer”.
“The Theory of Everything” comes after quite a long hiatus during which Lucassen worked on other projects, including the more traditional band Guilt Machine, but in August 2012 he revealed to his fans via his Youtube channel (!!) that a new Ayreon album was under construction. I say ‘fans’ but I imagine followers of Ayreon to be more like wide-eyed disciples than regular admirers. It must take a very particular set of predilections to create an Ayreon fan. How would you come to feel the need for a revival in rock opera? I’m a big fan of The Who, but even I think “Tommy” is egregiously naff.
Still, musicians have an unfathomable ability to embrace the preposterous, and they have lined up to work on “The Theory of Everything”. Guest musicians include Rick Wakemen, Steve Hackett and Keith Emerson – a prog A-Team if ever I saw one. Plus each character within the ‘opera’ is taken by a different guest vocalist, and they include John Wetton of Asia, Marco Hietala of Nightwish, Janne ‘JB’ Christofferon of Grand Magus and Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil. And that’s just the ones I’ve heard of!
It’s a huge production and a fairly lofty concept, dealing with the life of a young mathematical genius and the private and public jealousies his emergence causes. This all sounds very highbrow but is somewhat undone by the often appallingly hammy lyrics. My favourite example is during ‘Love and Envy’ where the rival to the boy genius cries –
“Oh no, I can’t believe you’ve fallen for this loser/Oh no, I thought you knew that I am so much cooler”
It’s like “High School Musical” as imagined by Jim Steinman, and as such it is so treasurably daft that it’s almost beyond the concept of ‘cool’ and becomes ironically brilliant… almost. Certainly the flute playing of regular sidekick Jeroen Goossens elevates this album to near “Anchorman” levels of silliness. But as much fun as it is to pretend this is tongue-in-cheek enjoyable I really won’t be listening to it again – not unless crushed velvet capes come back into fashion.